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Hasdrubal, son of Gesco


The ports of Carthage, seen from the Byrsa. Photo Jan van Vliet.
The ports of Carthage

Hasdrubal (mid-second century BCE): last commander of independent Carthage, fought against the Romans in the Third Punic War.

In 202, the Second Punic War ended. In spite of the courageous actions of Carthaginian commanders like Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and Mago, the Romans had defeated Carthage, seized all its possessions in Iberia, and had demanded a large indemnity. Carthage also lost its right to pursue an independent foreign policy. To the west of the city, the Numidian king Massinissa served as a Roman watchdog.

Unfortunately, the watchdog merely created new troubles. As an ally of Rome, Massinissa could always raid Carthaginian land. In 154, Carthage decided to strike back, and began to build an army. Immediately, the Romans investigated the case, and they tried to strike a compromise. But Massinissa's raids continued, and in 151, the Carthaginians declared war upon the Numidians.

Their commander was Hasdrubal, who was unable to defeat Massinissa, and accepted negotiations. A compromise would be made by the Roman Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. However, during the negotiations, Hasdrubal's supplies ran out, and Massinissa charged again, destroying the Carthaginian army. When the survivors tried to return home, Massinissa's son Gulussa continued the attacks. The greatest disaster, however, was that this incident gave Rome the pretext it needed to intervene. And indeed, Rome declared war. After all, Carthage had taken an initiative in its foreign policy.

The Carthaginians immediately condemned Hasdrubal to death, blaming him for the entire war, and hoping to avoid war with Rome. However, Hasdrubal escaped, recruited a private army, started to besiege Carthage, and was received back when it became obvious that Rome wanted war anyhow. He was appointed as supreme commander, an office he had to share with a grandson of Massinissa, who was also called Hasdrubal. The Romans were already at the gates and the Carthaginians toiled day and night to prepare the city's defenses.

When the Roman commanders finally attacked in the summer of 149, they found the city hard to besiege. Hasdrubal was even able to defeat one of the Roman armies in the country immediately north of Carthage; it was saved by Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, who was made supreme commander of the Roman army, and finally took the city in 146.

The story of the final stages of the war are difficult to understand. Our sources accuse Hasdrubal of trickery, to get rid of the other Hasdrubal; and we read about his cruel behavior towards his fellow citizens. Finally, we read that he opened negotiations with the Romans and betrayed his own city. It is hard to establish the truth of these stories, but it is reasonable to assume that the last story stems from Roman propaganda and was vented out to demoralize the last Carthaginian opposition.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 16 March 2008
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